Aleksander Barkov and Sean Bergenheim are two players that are on the bubble to make the Finnish Olympic hockey team. With the deadline to announce rosters set for tomorrow, the Panther duo is doing everything they can to make their case that they belong in Sochi.
At the start of the season, it was a safe bet that the Panthers’ 18-year-old rookie Aleksander Barkov would get a shot to represent Finland in the Olympics. Sean Bergenheim, 29, on the other hand was more of a long shot. Since then, Barkov has impressed in his first NHL season while Bergenheim has gotten himself healthy after missing all of last season.
As it stands now, it looks like Barkov will either be one of the last guys to make the squad or one of the first guys cut. Bergenheim still remains a long shot. The problem for both players has been timing. Aleksander Barkov had a productive start to his rookie season with seven points (3-4-7) in his first ten games but his production dried up during November and early December, a crucial period for Olympic evaluation. In 21 games from October 25-December 8, Barkov only managed three points (1-2-3). That dry spell could have been enough to convince those making the decisions regarding Team Finland, that Barkov might not be ready for the Olympics just yet.
For Sean Bergenheim, injuries have proven to be the greatest barrier between him and the Olympic team. The injuries that kept him out all of last season carried over into the 2013-14 season and Bergenheim did not make his debut this year until October 25. His return marked his first NHL game since April 26, 2012. All told, Bergenheim went about 18-months between NHL games which is a loud blemish on his resume when he is looked at by the Finnish Olympic Committee.
Bergenheim was understandably rusty in his first few weeks back with the Panthers this season. In his first 19 games he scored five points (3-2-5) and was probably at that point firmly out of the Olympic picture.
Recently both Aleksander Barkov and Sean Bergenheim have broken out in huge ways but it might just be too little too late. In the 11 games since December 8, Barkov has been on fire putting up 11 points (3-8-11) and he is currently in the midst of a 5-game point streak. At the moment he is the Panthers top scorer with 21 points and he is fifth in scoring amongst Finnish forwards in the NHL.
Since December 15, Sean Bergenheim has scored seven points (6-1-7) in eight games. In his last five games, Bergenheim has five goals and with 12 points on the season, he ranks 8th in scoring amongst Finnish forwards in the NHL. He also ranks 2nd amongst Finish forwards with .33 goals per game.
What makes their case for making the Finnish roster even stronger is the fact that Bergenheim and Barkov have recently been playing on the same and they have been thriving together. It has become a common sight to see Sean Bergenheim and Aleksander Barkov popping up together on the scoresheet and it looks like the chemistry between the two Fins is only getting stronger.
If Aleksander Barkov is going to make the Finnish roster he is probably going to do so as a fourth line center. Unfortunately for Barkov, center is probably the team’s strongest offensive position. Guys like Mikko Koivu, Valtteri Filppula, Olli Jokinen and Saku Koivu can all play center and all of them have been around much longer than the young Barkov.
Bergenheim has been Finland’s second most productive NHL left winger behind only Jussi Jokinen. That may help Bergenheim a little bit but it is not too hard to move a right winger over to the left plus there are a number of skaters playing in Europe that will also merit consideration for roster spots.
Let’s assume for a moment that Barkov does make the team and is slotted in as the fourth line center, a very distinct possibility. Would it be so crazy to select Bergenheim to play the left side on that fourth line with Barkov? They two have already proved how productive they can be together and with such a short time to adjust to your teammates, chemistry is at a huge premium. We have already seen such a teammate selection with Blues forwards David Backes and T.J. Oshie being selected to Team USA and there has been talk about Team Canada taking line mates such as Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz from Pittsburgh or the defensive pairing of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook from Chicago.
The argument against taking a duo such as Bergenheim and Barkov to fill out a fourth line is this: while the duo may work fine with the Panthers on a top-two line, they would probably not translate as well to a fourth line who’s responsibilities would be defensive and checking rather than scoring. There is no doubt that Barkov is an excellent defensive center and that defensive ability plus his size (6’3″) and scoring touch would make him an ideal fit centering Finland’s fourth line in the Olympics. Bergenheim on the other hand at only 5’10″, 205 lbs. may not be what Finland is looking for on their fourth line. Yes he is fast and yes he can excel playing an aggressive-checking-pesty game but it is highly plausible that Finland might rather go with someone bigger with better defensive abilities.
We do not have long to wait to see whether Barkov, Bergenheim or both make the Finnish Olympic roster as the announcement should be made tomorrow. One thing we do know for sure is that both players have put together a hell of a final push to make the squad.
What do you think? Do you see Barkov making the roster? Do you think Bergenheim even has a shot? Share your thoughts in the comments section below and follow The Rat Trick on Facebook and Twitter for all the latest.